Storm of the Century

The Storm of the Century
Steven Saint Vincent
Key Largo

They live and work and play on the easternmost third of the archipelago. It sounds exotic as if it were some faraway Paradise but it’s just a place they call home; The Upper Keys of Key Largo, Tavernier and Islamorada. There is a special language in this place where they make their lives, memories, retire or raise their children and there only are 2 seasons; Off season and In season. The people of the islands love Off season and tolerate In season. If asked directions, they tell you what you are looking for is north or south or just the mile marker, bay side or ocean. Seldom will you hear an address. There’s only one main road unless you live here and then you know the original highway. Outsiders are called Mainlanders. They don’t live here but they vacation, sometimes leave trash and often take advantage of this pristine environment – they are temporary. The Overseas Highway from Florida City to Key Largo is “the stretch.” Key Largo is simply called, “The Rock.”

A gentle breeze and swaying palms complimented by sparkling waters and colorful reefs can lure anyone into a state of unending relaxation. Worry seems a thousand miles away. Any morning the islander can watch the sunrise from private coves. Only islanders, and the occasional wandering Mainlander, know the right location for the perfect view. Summer evenings bring the end of day as the blaze of the sun says goodnight and the mosquitoes and no-see-ums make their presence known. Hats, sunglasses, loose clothing is the dress code as is sun screen and mosquito repellent, a fragrance known as Keys Cologne. And if you know where to go after sunset, you can lie on your back where the Atlantic greets our shores and gaze into a heaven of an ebony night sky glorious with a twinkling blanket of stars. Everything on the rock is slower and more paced. Some call it the Keys Disease and you will know you have it when most things can wait until later or even tomorrow. Mainlanders have a hard time understanding this but after a few days here, some begin to understand. Others leave complaining of slow service in restaurants, no one to help them at a store, or why does a place a business close so early. There was a time when chain stores were not allowed but that’s changing like a lot of things.

Looking to the east on this day the bay was calm. The tops of the mangroves peeked across western horizon. They fenced the bay of light green waters called the Bogies that leads to the back country where you can fish or paddle your Kayak. A southern breeze pushed a cooler breeze than usual for this time of year and he could feel the change on his skin. The late sun had cast long golden shadows on the dark-green waters of the bay and the waters pulled around pilings along the waterfront behind the homes that lined the area where he watched the small bait fish fight the light current as the tide had started to rise early and kiss the bottom side of the docks although she was hundreds of miles away battering the British Virgin Islands. Her eye was crossing the Caribbean and threading the needle toward San Juan approaching Cuba. A northern turn was predicted. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath through his nose and smell tell she was coming. There’s an uncertain fragrance when a hurricane is eminent.

It was Friday, a day usually heralding what the locals call the weekenders or Mainlanders but not this this day as it was not the usual anticipatory Friday prep for the weekend. Most weekends he would see boats decorating the docks, patiently waiting for their walk across the water. On this day, the waterway was abandoned. A large swirl on the water’s surface exposed a manatee navigating gently along the water bank as they did most afternoons. Her large broad tail gently fanning the water surface as if it were just another day. Often, these gentle creatures wander through the waterway 3 or 4 abreast, stopping to nibble the grasses that proliferated along the banks. He would sometimes toss lettuce into the water for the rambling mammals or drop a hose with fresh water for a drink. Today he watched as remaining residents hurried with tying down anything that could blow, attaching shutters or plywood to windows and preparing for what the news was calling the Storm of the Century – a Category 5 hurricane destined for a direct hit in the Florida Keys.

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